How Cisco Guaranteed Itself Bad PR

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by Edward M. Yang

In rolling out its now Cisco Cloud Connect service to all its Cisco and Linksys
wireless routers, one of the largest wireless networking company took an
extraordinary step that likely originated out of the products group which
resulted in massive backlash in both the media and online from furious users.

While Cloud Connect was meant to enable consumers to more easily connect
their multiple mobile devices to their WiFi networks, the way it was implemented
is a clear case study on how NOT to launch new services in this day and age.

The first big mistake they did was push it out without either a choice to revert
back to the old method (at least for awhile as users get used to the service) or
even without much due warning. Instead, users who were accustomed to signing
into their routers were greeted with a page forcing them to sign up for Cloud
Connect.

The second, and more serious, mistake was in burying information in their new
Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions that stated Cisco essentially could collect
a ton of new info on its users, such as Internet histories and the status of the
network.

The reaction was fast and negative. One user on the popular tech blog Slashdot
posted that they were “pretty sure that this wasn’t a case of mere stupidity, brought
on by poor, poor, management’s exposure to too many buzzwords. This is a
straightforward control grab, an overt attempt to turn a low-margin hardware sale
into an ongoing data harvesting and customer lock-in opportunity.”

I honestly believe senior management are surprised at the speed and depth of
the fury. They likely saw this as a new service that was in line with the broader move
to “the cloud”, and asked their legal team to draw up new terms in line with the
service.

Cisco has now had to spend a large amount of time defending itself and apologizing
during the past two weeks, something no company wants to do, least of all a top
consumer brand and one that is publicly traded.

For all the millions that Cisco spends on public relations and marketing in cultivating
an image in the minds of its customers and prospects, one careless product launch
undid all those efforts. Trust can be regained in the marketplace, but it takes time
and resources.

To avoid pulling a “Cisco”, here are a few helpful tips:

1. Have your PR and communications team integrated with product development
and launches. Ask them to look for potential fallout or negative pushback before
launches.

2. Any major changes regarding user privacy needs to be made carefully and with
full disclosure. The more time the better.

3. Make sure to offer users the option of using the old method, at least for a short
period of time.

4. Also make sure to offer a way for users to opt out of anything related to data
gathering.

5. Test the new product or new terms of use with a small focus group to try and flag
any potential issues before it hits the market.

Above all, use common sense. Your company succeeds only when customers decide
your products and services are better than the competition’s. Don’t give them any
additional reasons why they should switch.

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